KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 24

24 12 2016

Merry Christmas Eve, everybody!  Hopefully by now the stockings have been hung and the parents can start turning their attention to more important things, like booze.  Back in my first year of KWM Whisky Advent, the December 24th bottle was the end of the line and thus the one everyone waited for the whole month.  This year we get an extra bonus whisky tomorrow, but it’s a special Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling and is double-miniature-sized, leaving tonight the final standard-format calendar bottle. And it delivers, at least in packaging (every scotch should be sold in a bright tartan box) and age designation (distilled 25 years ago in 1991!).  It is yet another Gordon & MacPhail offering, but from a heretofore unseen line:  The MacPhail’s Collection, a small range from a select line of distilleries (7 in all at the moment).  One of them is Glen Scotia, an ancient distillery located at the tip of the Campbeltown peninsula in southwest Scotland.  Campbeltown isn’t a huge scotch area, known mainly for Springbank and its sister distilleries, so it’s no massive surprise that this is the first whisky from the region we’ve seen in Advent 2016.  One of Glen Scotia’s claims to fame, other than being sold a trillion times and failing in the early 20th century like basically every other whisky producer, is that it’s haunted by the ghost of a prior owner, who drowned himself in Campbeltown Loch after losing everything he had in a bad business deal (hopefully not the purchase of the distillery itself, but you can’t rule that out).

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The full title of this bottle is The MacPhail’s Collection 1991 Single Campbeltown Malt Scotch Whisky from Glen Scotia Distillery, but unlike every other whisky so far in 2016 Whisky Advent, there is no other information about it anywhere.  It is only for sale at KWM in mini-bottle format (for $24, suggesting that it would be a $300+ full-sized bottle) and not otherwise available; it is not mentioned on the Gordon & MacPhail site; and it is not available for sale at any online shops I could find, even in the UK, except in miniature form.  Weird.  It’s not as dark as you might think for a 25 year old whisky (although it may not be a 25 Year whisky for age designation purposes if it was bottled a while ago, as age labelling is based on time from distillation to bottling) but carries a pure, malty nose of golden raisin, plum, fresh pear, sourdough bread and trail mix, with a hint of fitting Christmas fruitcake.  However, it then takes a left turn and goes surprisingly sharp, rubbery and industrial, filling the mouth with not-altogether-enjoyable tastes of tennis balls, permanent marker, elastic bands and shoe treads; these factory-floor notes and the whisky’s spiky alcohol combine to nearly overwhelm spicy underlying notes of rock salt, caraway and fennel.  Interesting?  Yes.  Pleasant?  Not entirely.  See you at the 2016 calendar finale, and at Christmas!!





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 19

19 12 2015

The last weekend of 2015 whisky writing is upon me.  I can smell the end of this December blogging marathon; it smells like scotch.  This is the fifth time in the past two years that I’ve opened a calendar door to see a black cardboard box wedged inside, which can mean only one thing:  a trip back to Campbeltown and its dominant Springbank distillery.  This time it’s the main label whisky as opposed to its sister labels, the triple-distilled Hazelburn (as seen in Day 13 this year and weirdly also in Day 13 last year) and the heavily peated Longrow (as seen in Day 20 last year, and with five more days to make an appearance this time around).  Last year the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar completed the triumvirate with the Springbank 10 Year on Day 18; this year we graduate to the Springbank 15 Year, the staple of the distillery’s core lineup, which runs for $112 at KWM.  Springbank distillery was established in 1828 on the site of an illicit still run by an Archibald Mitchell, and four generations later it remains run by Mitchell’s great great grandson, remaining in the family for close to 200 years.  100% of the whisky-making process for each label’s lineup occurs on site at Springbank, an extreme rarity in the scotch world.  The distillery’s website describes its 15 Year Single Malt in a way that requires remedial English lessons:  “Like a storm gathering off the Kintyre coast, our 15 year-old Springbank is dark and ominous, yet delicious.”  Um.  OK.  How is a gathering storm delicious??  Simile police APB – calling all units.  This sentence was a train wreck from about the third word in.

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Grammatical terror aside, this is a beautiful dram that should please all comers, regardless of their flavour preferences and sensibilities.  It is a rich amber, almost orange in colour, and (especially without water added) smells strongly sherried at first, salt and seashells and yeast added on top of leather, raw pumpkin and Elastoplast aromas.  A few drops of water bring out softer, more welcoming baking spice notes like brown sugar, gingerbread and clove.  Like a storm gathering off the Kintyre coast, this Springbank is concentrated and fiery on the palate, yet delicious, with a viscous mouthfeel and a lingering set of flavours crossing multiple taste groupings.  There’s a sweet honeyed wheatiness to it, like breakfast cereal, a hint of peaty mossiness and smoke, a touch of sherry nuttiness and brine, and a dollop of caramel and fig maturity, all in roughly equal proportions.  This is the Goldilocks whisky, likely to come across as just right to a host of different palates.  Clearly a way better metaphor than the storm thing.  Into the 20s tomorrow!





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 13

13 12 2015

I could have sworn that I had read or heard somewhere that the 2015 KWM Whisky Advent Calendar would contain no duplicate whiskies from the 2014 calendar, which I’m sure was a logistical challenge due to the so-so availability of mini-bottles, but which I thought was an excellent choice to maintain the intrigue for repeat buyers.  So far this year we’ve had a couple of distillery overlaps, but zero identical bottles, as was expected.  But that ended tonight, as 2015’s Day 13 whisky was strangely the exact same as 2014’s Day 13 whisky:  the Hazelburn 12 Year Single Malt from Campbeltown, Scotland’s least prevalent whisky region in the southwest corner of the country.  I will not try to hide my disappointment at this development, particularly since I was sort of meh about this scotch last year; of all the ones to repeat in the calendar, why this one?  Hazelburn is a relatively new line of whiskies from the Springbank Distillery, which is by far the largest and most important remaining in Campbeltown.  This lineup was first distilled in 1997 and features triple distillation as its calling card:  the whisky is run through old copper stills three separate times during distillation, with each run removing more and more impurities and heightening the proof level of the spirit.  Removing impurities isn’t exactly the distilling goal of scotch whisky (if you removed almost all of them and ended up with a nearly pure spirit, you’d basically have vodka), as what keeps the spirit impure is the flavour and character of the land and grain, but the extra distillation results in a lighter, more subtle dram that is Hazelburn’s signature style.

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The 12-year maturation in sherry casks gives this scotch a lovely deep golden colour, and I am an admitted fan of the Oakland Raider-style silver and black label design (with the aforementioned three stills front and centre).  The nose was a swirling melange of rubber, chemical, peaches and cream, popcorn kernels, char and citrus, with the fruit notes mostly overtaken by the industrial ones.  As I remembered from last year, the Hazelburn 12 comes across as heavily wooded when you taste it, like the barrels used were strongly toasted or something, as smoke, hickory and ash are at the flavour forefront, with banana and cantaloupe fruit, honey, vanilla and varnish sneaking through the oak wall at various points ahead of a dusty, papery, fiery finish.  Looking back at the tasting notes in last year’s writeup, I see a number of similarities emerge, although my notes are clearly less identical than the bottles are.  Let us hope this will be the last time we’re able to do this kind of head-to-head 2014 vs. 2015 comparison.  Bit of a letdown night overall, I have to say.





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 20

20 12 2014

Well, whisky friends (and long-suffering wine readers who are just dying for Advent to be over – hang in there), we’ve reached Day 20 of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.  Only 4 more whiskies left until Christmas, which means we’re on the home stretch, gaining momentum to go out with a bang…right?  Maybe not so fast.  When I opened tonight’s calendar window and saw a familiar black cardboard box staring back at me, my thoughts could entirely be summed up with:  “Again?”

Not the little black box again.  (Sorry Campbeltown.)

Not the little black box again. (Sorry Campbeltown.)

Yep, it’s scotch #3 from the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown, completing the collector’s set of whiskies from the producer’s 3 sub-labels:  first came the Hazelburn 12 on Day 13, then came the Springbank 10 two freaking days ago, and now we get the Longrow N.V. Peated Single Malt, a whisky with no age designation at all (meaning that at least a chunk of it was made from quite young malts).  If you’re wondering how many whiskies from one producer is too many in a 24-day calendar, the answer is 3.  The Longrow retails for $64 and is a solid value for that price, but I can’t see myself coming back to it. Read the rest of this entry »





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 18

18 12 2014

Deja vu all over again?  I did a bit of a double take as I pulled the black box surrounding this whisky out of the calendar tonight.  Day 18 of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is located right beside Day 13, and Day 13 was home to an identical little black box, belonging to Springbank distillery’s Hazelburn 12 Year Single Malt.  Tonight’s neighbour box decided to forego the sister label and stick to the heart of the core brand, containing Springbank’s “benchmark whisky” (as KWM puts it), the 10 Year Single Malt.  As you already know if you tuned in 5 days ago, Springbank is interesting because it’s one of only three distilleries left in the scotch region of Campbeltown, and by far the best known of the three.  The Hazelburn label’s distinguishing features was that it was unpeated and triple-distilled; I don’t think either of those factors apply to the Springbank 10, which seemed to me to contain a bit of peat and which does not feature the hyper-literal three stills on its label like its sibling does.

Should sister labels look identical in the package?  My vote is "no".

Should sister labels look identical in the package? My vote is “no”.

My big issue with the Hazelburn was that I came out of it not really knowing how I was supposed to feel about it.  It’s a little bit easier to align myself with the Springbank, which seems to have more of a confident identity to it, although the two whiskies are quite alike in many ways in terms of smell and taste.  I wrote the tasting notes below for the Springbank 10 without going back and re-reading my Hazelburn writeup first — go back and cross-compare and the similarities will jump right out at you. Read the rest of this entry »





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 13

13 12 2014

I have a Christmas party to attend tonight, so for the first time this Advent it’s afternoon whisky time!  Today’s whisky closes the loop on the scotch-producing regions of Scotland:  we’ve already had whiskies from 4 of the 5 regions (Speyside, Highland, Lowland, Islay), and this one hails from the lone remaining region, Campbeltown, a peninsula found on Scotland’s southwest coast.  This used to be a high-production area for scotch, but it has gradually fallen from prominence, to the point now where only three distilleries remain:  Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia.  Springbank is by far the best known of the three and produces whiskies under three different labels, one of which is today’s feature scotch.  The Hazelburn Campbeltown 12 Year Single Malt is unpeated and triple-distilled, a production method common in Irish whiskies but rarely seen in scotch.  It spends its aging time in sherry casks (unclear whether they’re Oloroso or not, so I can’t get righteously indignant) and retails for $98.

I need some feedback on this one - have you had it?  What do you think?

I need some feedback on this one – have you had it? What do you think?

I can’t decide whether I like this whisky or not.  On the one hand, it has a beautiful straw-golden colour and a sense of individuality that sets it apart from the other drams in the calendar.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to handle its 46% alcohol as well as most of the other whiskies, coming across slightly fiery and harsh at the edges and remaining steadfastly gut-warming on the finish.  The nose, though restrained, has a bit of everything, from spice, celery and copper to apple juice, sulphur and dried grass.  Each sip is initially predominated by alcohol, roasted oak and mesquite, but somewhere in the midpalate more interesting notes of anise, dried citrus, coffee and honey emerge.  I hate to leave a post ambivalent about anything, but I really don’t know how I feel about this scotch, other than happy to add some Campbeltown to my repertoire.  Until tomorrow!








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